An Unplanned Break from Blogging

So this will be even shorter than the one I’d spent a painful half hour typing before Squarespace decided to eat the post.

I completely failed in my commitment to keep up with and successfully complete the #vDM30in30 blog challenge. 

I did that for two primary reasons:

  1. We decided we needed a new, larger vehicle in November. As is normal for me, I obsessively researched the purchase.  We settled on a Kia Sorento and bought it the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Most of the spare time I had in November was spent doing car research, and nearly all of that on my iPhone 6S Plus because of reason 2.
  2. In late October I developed carpal tunnel syndrome. I’m still dealing with it now, having seen my primary doctor and am currently waiting to see a specialist. 

I typed up a good bit of info about my experience so far in the post Squarespace ate (and that I, admittedly failed to save – won’t make that mistake again) so I’ll just post a pic and a few links to what I’m trying right now.

This is me with the 2 trackballs I’m using with my right hand these days.  Not pictured is the one I also use with my left hand.

I’m using the Kensington Orbit with my left hand when I feel like I need to give my right hand a break. It’s cheap and not the best feel/quality, but I had it in a box at home and it’s good enough, for now anyway, for my off hand.

For my left hand, I am alternating between the Logitech M570 for precision work and the Kensington SlimBlade for general use. I bought the Logitech right away when I started hurting because I didn’t want to wait on the purchase process at work, and I figured I would need one at home anyway. I’m currently borrowing the Kensington Slimblade from my boss for a few days because, as the most expensive of the three, I want to make sure it will do well by me before asking him to drop nearly $100 on it.

I’m also going to borrow an Evoluent vertical mouse from a colleague this week. I’ve heard good things about vertical mice. I have tried and will be returning an Anker vertical mouse. It’s too small for my hand and gets fairly crummy wireless reception.

More to come as I figure all this out

I’m planning to post more about this as the pain allows and as my experience with it grows. I’m going to try to experiment with blogging via dictation either via my Mac or iPhone. While I anticipate needing to do some layout and image adding by hand, just being able to save typing most of these words would have been very nice.

iPad Pro – Not For Me

I may end up regretting this, since some folks in my life revel in reminding me when I declare I’m not going to buy [name of Apple product] that I often later do purchase it, but I just don’t see the iPad Pro in my near future, and maybe ever.

That’s a screenshot of our university Apple Store pricing for the iPad Pro and accessories. As an aside, I think it’s hilarious that Apple knocks $50 off the price of a MacBook Air, but only $20 off the price of an iPad Pro, even though they basically cost the same amount of money.

There’s no way I would buy an iPad without AppleCare+, especially having endured the pain of dealing with a shattered screen on an iPad 4 without accidental damage coverage. So the least I could spend on an iPad Pro would be $1028 plus tax. Since I can’t see the point of going with something as large as the iPad without getting the accessories to make full use of it, at a minimum I’d need to add the Smart Keyboard for an extra $169, bringing the minimum to $1197. 

I can’t draw, but I do like to write notes and sometimes doodle, so that’s another $99, bringing the pre-tax total to $1296. And since the state of TN isn’t going to give it to me tax free (outside of tax-free weekend, but that was back in August), my real out-the-door total price would be $1,415.88.

If that makes sense to you for your use case, I am very happy for you. For me, if I’m going to spend $1400+ on a device, I’m going to need it to do more than an iPad currently can do for me. I own a 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display and love it, and I didn’t pay too much more for it than I would this iPad Pro.

I’m not sure who the iPad Pro is really for – artists maybe, or maybe folks who can live fully on an iPad but would like a bigger screen than the iPad Air 2 offers.  Even though it isn’t for me, I’m sure it will appeal to a lot of people, and I wish them well.

Apple TV 4th Generation – Early Impressions


This will not be an exhaustive review of the Apple TV.  If you’re looking for that, I suggest you read one of these:

Here are my early impressions of the new Apple TV. Full disclosure – I registered for and received an (essentially) free Apple TV through the Apple Developer Program, so I’m not coming at this from the perspective of someone who just spend $149 or more on the device. I also had the device for about a month before it came out, but considering the App Store wasn’t available until launch day, the Apple TV only served as an iTunes media extender for that period of time.

Unboxing & Setup – Some Good, Some Terrible

The out of box experience with the new Apple TV is a mixed bag. Of course it came packed in a box that made it seem like a Christmas present and of course it’s physically well-made and easy to connect – this is an Apple device, after all.

Powering the device on for the first time and setting it up with an iPhone (6S Plus in my case) via Bluetooth was outstanding, as it should be. The Apple TV sucked in my home network security information via my iPhone and connected to the Internet without a hitch. And that’s when the fun stopped.

First the Apple TV wanted my iCloud password. I’m not sure why since it had already magically gotten other information from my iPhone, but OK, maybe Apple means for it to be more secure. No way I’m going to willingly try to type my password on a remote, especially since my password isn’t short and simple, so off I go to the iOS App Store on my new 6S Plus to download the Remote app.  This app is awesome because it basically lets you use your iOS device’s keyboard when paired with the Apple TV and I’d used it with both the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TV’s, so I was good to go, right? Wrong. The Remote app doesn’t work with the 4th generation Apple TV. No problem, I can also pair one of the many Apple Bluetooth keyboards to it just like I had on previous Apple TV’s, right? Wrong.

Here’s the interface you get to use while entering your (hopefully complex) iCloud password and any other password you may have to enter using the new Apple TV.

Have fun with that, I guess, if your password is complex, and especially if it jumps around on that crazy horizontal line for the alphabet. And if you happen to mistype your password, you get this.

So let’s review. Apple released the new Apple TV without support for Bluetooth keyboards, something previous generations supported, and did not update its own Remote app to work with the 4th generation Apple TV. This makes for a truly terrible and frustrating experience, and I can only imagine Tim Cook and Eddy Cue either have minions to do all this crap for them or have simple passwords. 

Major UI / user experience fail in my opinion.

The new Siri Remote – Not a Fan Yet

So i’m not a fan of the new remote, at least not yet. It’s too small for my hands, although it’s better than the old style that I never used anyway. While I suppose I will need to keep the remote handy if I want to take advantage of the integrated Siri functionality, that will be a bit of a pain as it will still be a secondary remote. On our main TV in the bedroom I have the following devices connected to a Sony soundbar and our 40″ TV:

  • Apple TV (4th Gen)
  • Roku 3
  • Tivo HD
  • Xbox One

I drive all that with a fairly middle of the road Logitech Harmony remote, which thankfully still works fine with the new Apple TV. Given that, I haven’t even picked up the Siri remote in a few days, and may only use it moving forward for apps/games that require the touch pad or to use Siri itself.

I will say I don’t find the touch pad to be particularly precise, although I’m willing to admit I haven’t put much time into using it or tuning my movements to whatever it requires. Still, swiping and clicking on an iPhone or iPad has never been something I could describe as imprecise.

What’s to Like – Apps

While I am pretty annoyed at the frustrating experience for entering passwords into the Apple TV and I’m still not used to the new remote, there is a good deal to like about the new Apple TV.

First of all, the device is much faster than my 3rd generation device. It’s doing more too, but even moving from app to app or app to video player, it feels so much quicker than previous Apple TV’s. Second, there are real apps now, not just those janky pseudo containers Apple worked with some companies to provide bland video experiences before.

While the app selection on launch day was fairly light, I was able to find a couple of gems on day one. Touchpress is an app that combines classical music, video of it being performed, and interesting visualizations like the notes falling onto a piano keyboard or an orchestra map with sections of instruments lighting up to the beat of the music. Star Walk Kids is a Apple TV version of the popular iPad kids astronomy app. Haven’t done a ton with it so far, but in the few minutes I showed it to our 3 year old, he really enjoyed it.

There is an enormous selection of games already, but I’m going to wait a bit before trying any of them. Mostly because I want to give it some time for the best ones to surface either via store reviews or review sites, but also because I can’t really see using the remote as a gaming controller.  Once I know there are several games I’ll like, I’ll check out reviews of Apple TV-compatible game controllers and buy one.

Siri – more than just a gimMick

To prepare to write this post, I played with Siri on the Apple TV. It does a number of the things we’re used to from Siri on the iPhone, so I’m not going to go into those.  What I will say, however, is that Siri is even better so far in actual use than I thought it would be based on the demo during the Apple event keynote a couple months ago.

I did a quick test, asking Siri to show me movies with Harrison Ford in them.  It did, with a list of movies scrolling off the screen. So I said, “just the action movies” and the list got smaller. Then I said, “from the last 10 years” and Siri showed me the ones from 2005 to 2015. Then I said, “Show me the ones from the last year” and there was only one left – Expendables 3. So that’s neat.

What’s even better, though, is that all of the voice controls for moving around during a video are not just limited to Apple’s video playing apps. I just bounced around a movie in Plex by just pressing Siri button on the remote and saying things like, “Jump ahead 5 minutes” or “What did he say?” and everything worked exactly as expected, either moving to the point in time I specified, or jumping back 15-20 seconds to replay what I had missed.

Plex – the killer app so far

I like Plex. I used to like it a lot more before the screwed their iOS app up so much that it transformed my 3 year old’s iPad from something he could use without any help from me into something that made no sense even to me. That’s a story for another time, though. I still have and use the Plex server, and for years, all I’ve really wanted was to be able to run Plex natively on my Apple TV without jailbreaking or any other hacking nonsense. Plex on the Roku 3 is great, and over time, the Roku 3 became my primary set-top box (we ditched cable nearly 5 years ago) – with my old Apple TV being relegated to playing only iTunes content and HBO NOW.

While I’ve shifted our family’s media consumption lately to include more iTunes content, which would make it easier to shift the new Apple TV into the primary slot, the fact that Plex is not only on Apple TV but the best implementation of the Plex client yet makes it a sure thing.

So Plex looks great, works well, and feels much faster on the new Apple TV than it does on my Roku 3. While I will likely continue to get kids shows for our son via iTunes so I can make sure he has a kid-friendly movies & tv interface, I will happily continue to rip my physical media and store it on my Synology NAS so it can be served up by Plex server to the TV’s in our house.

Apple TV 4th Generation – a mixed but hopeful bag

I’m looking forward to using the new Apple TV. For what it does well, I am very happy. For the terrible, and I mean atrociously bad setup and continued UI mess with entering passwords, I am very disappointed in Apple. They can do better, and I hope they do it soon by either updating the iOS Remote app or by enabling Bluetooth keyboard support for the new Apple TV.

I’ll say again that I got this Apple TV via the Developer Program, so I only paid $1 for it. Would I pay $149 or more for one right now? Probably, although I’d be even more mad about the password nonsense. I will likely buy a second one to replace the Roku 3 on our living room TV at some point, mainly so our son would be able to watch Paw Patrol on either of our TV’s.